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Identifying Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerances

In part 1 of this blog, “Making Sense of Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerances,” I explained the various ways you may be sensitive, allergic or intolerant to specific foods and how these can impact your health and put additional stress on your adrenals. In Part 2 below, I will help you understand some ways to identify them, and in my next blog, Part 3, I’ll show you how to eliminate them.

IgE Food Allergies – The Usual Suspects

suspectsIn order to overcome any type of food reaction, you must first identify which foods are causing problems. Eight foods are responsible for approximately 90% of food allergies: shellfish, milk, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and soy. In the case of the “typical” food allergy it is usually easy to identify a problem if you ingest the food. One bite can cause an immediate allergic reaction.  These allergic reactions are known as IgE mediated allergies or immediate hypersensitivity reactions. IgE refers to the type of antibody produced by the immune system in response to the allergen. Antibodies are the immune cells your body makes against something your body identifies as “foreign.” Because this type of reaction can be severe, it is preferable to determine IgE allergies without actually eating the food in question.  IgE allergies can usually be discovered via a skin prick test by an allergist. A tiny amount of the food is applied to pricked skin. A positive test causes a red wheal (hive). This test is very sensitive, but not very specific. That means that sometimes someone will react to the test for a food when they actually are sensitive to a related food. For this reason, it’s important to use this test along with a thorough diet history and only test relevant foods. Also, there is a small chance that someone could have a severe allergic reaction to the test foods. A possible alternative is to test for IgE allergies via a blood test, called a RAST test, and avoid the possibility of a dangerous allergic response. Just know that these are fairly expensive, aren’t as sensitive, are not available for all foods, and typically need to be confirmed by eating the foods in question and looking for a response. (Because IgE mediated responses can be dangerous, it is best to do this under the care of a physician.)

In the case of food sensitivities in which an immune reaction results from antibodies other than IgE, there are different lab tests that can be done. Typically these test IgG or IgA antibodies. IgG is the main antibody in the blood while IgA is the primary antibody in the digestive and respiratory tracts. Typically IgA and IgG food allergy tests involve adding a drop of your blood to food antigens (the protein portion of the food to which the immune system reacts) and looking for a reaction. The IgG test is more sensitive (it can detect the correct antibodies more easily) but less specific (it sometimes detects the wrong antibodies). The IgA test is more specific and less sensitive. If you decide to do these tests, it is very important that you have been eating the foods you’re testing for roughly 6 weeks or longer before you have your blood drawn. Your body does not make antibodies against an antigen (the food in this case) unless it is exposed to it. So even if you are reactive to a food, after you haven’t eaten it in a while your antibody levels will go down – wonderful news when treating the condition, but problematic when testing. Unfortunately, these tests are also relatively expensive, not always reproducible, and the results on paper don’t always correlate with the symptoms you experience.

Celiac Disease

celiac's diseaseIn celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, a very specific type of immune reaction occurs. The body creates antibodies against certain proteins found in wheat and other grains, and these antibodies then attack the body’s own intestinal cells mistaking them for foreign cells (auto=self: autoimmune = immunity against self).  Historically, a biopsy of the digestive tract has been considered the gold standard for diagnosing celiac. Now there are lab tests which some physicians feel can predict celiac as accurately as a biopsy if used in conjunction with a food challenge. The most commonly ordered tests are for anti-gliadin antibodies (antibodies against a specific portion of the gluten protein) and tissue transglutaminase antibodies (antibodies that attack the intestinal cells).

These same tests can sometimes be useful in looking for gluten sensitivity unrelated to abdominal or intestinal problems, but there are limitations. One of the primary problems is that there are many proteins on the grain in addition to those that we know cause celiac disease, and lab tests aren’t available for most of them. If you are reacting to a protein in the grain other than the few we have a test for, nothing will show up on the lab test.

Testing for Food Intolerances

For food intolerances there are sometimes tests available. For example, in the case of lactose intolerance, there are two common tests. Each begins with drinking a liquid with high levels of lactose. In one, blood sugar levels are measured after a couple hours. If your blood sugar doesn’t rise, you aren’t breaking down and absorbing the milk sugar. In the other test, the amount of hydrogen you exhale is measured at regular intervals for up to 3 hours after drinking the liquid. Typically, people don’t exhale a large amount of hydrogen, but if you are not absorbing the lactose, the milk sugar gets broken down by colonic bacteria that create a lot of hydrogen and other gases (one of the main reasons lactose intolerance is so painful!). Lab tests don’t exist for every food intolerance though, or for most of the sensitivities related to the drug-like components in food. In the case of caffeine, sometimes an elevated heart rate or blood pressure will let you know that you are sensitive to the stimulant effects, but for many pharmacological components, there is nothing easily measurable.

If you’ve been reading closely, you may have noticed some patterns emerging:  although many lab tests exist and can prove useful, none is 100% accurate, most are fairly expensive, and there are many situations for which we don’t even have lab tests. This is why in my practice I encouraged my patients to do an elimination and challenge diet rather than a laboratory test (except in the case of IgE mediated allergies). The diet is much less expensive than the labs; will help detect various types of food reactions- allergies, sensitivities, intolerances, and reactions to pharmacologically active food constituents- and it is the first step in treatment as well. Stay tuned for the next blog in which I describe how to do the elimination and challenge diet.

Continue to part 3 – Eliminating Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerances

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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Making Sense of Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerances

In this post, I address the meanings, misuse and differences between allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. In the next post, I talk about what you can do to identify food allergies and sensitivities. The final post in this series is on eliminating allergies, sensitivities and intolerances

know your allergens sign

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding food sensitivities and their effects on your body. When you’re under stress or if you have adrenal fatigue, it is important to nourish your body with healthy foods. However, in some people, the ingestion of certain (normally healthy) foods can create a physiological stress that adds to the total body burden and challenges the adrenal glands. Identifying and removing offending foods from your diet can help reduce your stress load and improve your health—especially if your adrenals are fatigued—but it is important to know what to look for and to understand what you are dealing with.

Most people are aware of the classic food allergy: you take a bite of shrimp, your tongue swells and you break out in hives. The problem is that some people assume that if this isn’t happening to them, they don’t have food sensitivities—which isn’t necessarily the case. On the other hand, many people experience an energy crash after they ingest sugar and think they are allergic to it—which isn’t possible. That doesn’t mean that sugar can’t create its own set of problems in your body. (I’ll get to that in a minute). My goal in this blog is to help you understand the various types of food allergies, sensitivities, intolerances and reactions to pharmacologically active (those that induce a drug-like effect) food components. Any of these may stress your adrenals and cause them, and in some cases your immune system, to work overtime.

Let’s start with some definitions. An allergy is a type of hypersensitivity to a food—an adverse immunologic response to a protein found in the diet. This is why sugar can’t be an allergen. Sugar is pure carbohydrate, not protein, and a protein is required to trigger the immune response. The example I used with the shrimp is what is known as an IgE mediated allergy, the most widely recognized food allergy. IgE, or immunoglobulin E, is a type of immune cell. In this type of food allergy, IgE triggers symptoms such as hives, swelling, and in some cases anaphylaxis (a life-threatening condition that causes airway constriction) shortly after ingestion of the offending food.

gluten free aisle by Flickr user ilovememphisOther types of hypersensitivity (mediated by different immune cells such as IgA or IgG) can also occur. Although not an “allergy” in the classic sense, they can create an inflammatory response and are responsible for many chronic disease states. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains, often affects the body in this way and can be responsible for bloating, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. In the worst cases, gluten can cause celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that severely damages the intestinal lining. Celiac is associated with other autoimmune disorders such as diabetes and thyroiditis. Gluten sensitivity, even without intestinal effects, has been linked to psychiatric and neurological problems, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ataxia, a disorder that causes loss of muscle coordination.

Food intolerances, such as lactose (milk sugar) intolerance, are often the result of a deficiency in metabolism. In the case of lactose intolerance, the digestive enzyme called lactase that is needed to break down the lactose is missing or present in insufficient quantities. As a result, the milk sugar enters the large intestine incompletely digested, and the bacteria that live in the intestine ferment it, producing large amounts of gas as a byproduct, which causes bloating, loose stools and abdominal discomfort.

this way to caffeine by Flickr user leejordanSome foods have a pharmacological (drug-like) effect on the body. Caffeine is a central nervous system (brain) stimulant and can cause rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure. A substance called tyramine, found in smoked meats and fermented foods like cheese, causes release of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and has been implicated in the development of migraines. Opioids are chemicals that act like narcotics and may induce pain relief and sedation. Opioids have been found in both wheat and dairy proteins. Some people report sensitivities to additives such as artificial sweeteners, chemical flavor enhancers such as MSG, and certain dyes.

Finally, some foods influence the body’s metabolism and cause physiologic effects that way.  Sugar is the primary source of energy for the brain. If blood sugar is allowed to drop too low—because you’ve gone too long without food or because you ate too much sugar too quickly and compensatory mechanisms have overshot their mark—the brain doesn’t receive the sugar it needs and produces symptoms such as irritability, palpitations, anxiety or even a personality change.

Now that you are aware of the various ways foods can negatively impact and create stress in your body, I’ll help you learn some ways to identify which foods may be causing your problems.

Continue to part 2 – Identifying Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerances

Image Credits: Gluten-free grocery aisle by Flickr user ilovememphis; Caffeine sign by Flickr user leejordan

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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Recipes – Vegan Black Bean Brownies and Bison with Lentils

Here are two more allergen- and health-conscious recipes to try out this weekend. An employee brought the brown bean brownies to a company dinner and they were outstanding – a great alternative to traditional brownies. The bison with lentils recipe comes from our very own Scott Brynaert. Enjoy!

Black Bean Brownies

Notes: Rolled oats run through the food processor may substituted for the instant oats. Use optional sugar if your bananas are still green and not very ripe.

brownies

Image credit: Flickr user yum9me

Ingredients:

  • 15 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 whole bananas
  • 1/3 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp.vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup instant oats

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease an 8×8″ pan and set aside.
3. Combine all ingredients, except oats, in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, scrapping sides as needed.
4. Stir in the oats and pour batter into the pan. Bake approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before slicing. Note: if you find these brownies are too soft or too fudge-y, add another 1/4 cup oats or flour.

 Bison with Lentils

lentils

Image credit: Flickr user su-lin

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. bison stew meat, cubed
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/3 tsp. garam masala
  • 6-8 cups water
  • 1-14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1-14 oz. can of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large pot on low heat, add onions and oil. Let cook for 15-20 minutes until caramelized, stirring occasionally.
2. Add garlic and bison, stirring until bison is browned, then add the lentils.
3. Stir in spices and add the water and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer on low for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the kidney beans and simmer for 30 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

 

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Yummy Allergen-Free Recipes – Gluten & Dairy Free Muffins

Here are two gluten- and dairy-free muffin recipes that don’t sacrifice on taste. And with no added fats, these muffins can be enjoyed without that nagging guilt. Enjoy!

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Blueberry Muffins

(prep time 40 minutes, including baking time)

blueberries

Image credit: Flickr user brx01

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 lemon – grated rind and juice
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup natural honey or agave syrup
  • 3/4 cup rice or soy milk
  • 1/2 tsp. ground mace or anise (optional)
  • 2 cups washed and dried blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Lightly coat muffin pan (12 muffins) with nonstick spray or use nonstick muffin liners.
3. Mix or sift flour, baking powder, salt and lemon rind (and mace or anise, if using), making sure there are no big lumps.
4. Make a well in the flour and add eggs. Beat eggs with fork.
5. Add lemon juice, vanilla and honey (or agave syrup) to eggs and beat together.
6. Beat milk into egg mixture with fork.
7. Stir wet and dry ingredients together with a wooden spoon until completely blended.
8. Gently stir in blueberries.
9. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling them almost to top.
10. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned and center springs back when touched.
11. When cool, store in plastic bag. Can be frozen and reheated individually by microwave (50 sec).

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Flourless Almond Muffins

(prep time 40 minutes, including baking time)

almonds

Image credit: Flickr user HealthAliciousNess

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups raw almonds (with skin on), ground fine
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. almond flavoring
  • 1/2 cup natural maple or agave syrup
  • 3/4 cup rice or soy milk
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup raspberry preserves (preferably fruit-sweetened, no sugar) OR lemon curd OR 1 1/2 cups washed and dried raspberries or blackberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground mace or anise (optional)
  • 2 cups washed and dried blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly coat muffin pan (12 muffins) with nonstick spray or use nonstick muffin liners.Mix or sift flour, baking powder, salt and lemon rind (and mace or anise, if using), making sure there are no big lumps.

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Lightly coat muffin pan (12 muffins) with nonstick spray or use nonstick muffin liners.
3. Mix ground almonds, baking powder and salt, making sure there are no big pieces of almond.
4. Make a well in the dry mix and add eggs. Beat eggs with fork.
5. Add almond flavoring and maple (or agave syrup) to eggs and beat together.
6. Beat milk into egg mixture with fork.
7. Stir wet and dry ingredients together with a wooden spoon until completely blended.
8. For raspberries: gently stir them in and divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling them almost to top. For jam/lemon curd: divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling them half full.
9. Place 1 tsp. of jam or lemon curd in center of batter in each muffin cup and then add rest of batter.
10. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned and center springs back when touched.
11. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Run a nonmetal knife around sides and remove to cooling rack.
12. When cool, store in plastic bag. Can be frozen and reheated individually by microwave (50 sec).

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Stress and Digestion Part 3-Rescuing Your Digestive System

Rescuing Your Digestive System

Although it is not possible to avoid all stress, it is beneficial to keep stress at a manageable level and allow your parasympathetic nervous system to have a chance to repair your body. Here are some things you can do to help:

digestive system• Exercise can help decrease stress hormones in the same way that a physical response to stress worked in our ancestors

• Laugh! It has been shown to reduce cortisol

• Practice yoga or listen to music – Doing so decreases cortisol and the sympathetic stress response

• Take mini-breaks – Just by standing up from your desk and stretching for a few minutes, or taking time to actually chew and taste a healthy lunch rather than hurriedly gobbling something down, you can encourage a parasympathetic response that supports your digestion

• Any activity (not including the use of alcohol or drugs) that allows you to release your stress, to relax, or to slow your heart rate helps your parasympathetic nervous system get back in the driver’s seat, repairing your intestines, absorbing nutrients and allowing your digestive system to function normally

Supplemental Support in Times of Stress

In addition to these lifestyle changes, incorporating supplements that provide focused digestive and adrenal support can make a big difference in enhancing your digestive system’s resilience to stress.

For the Digestive System:

ginger by Flickr user Greatist

Natural fibers like ginger can help keep things moving

• Natural fibers such as psyllium, oat bran, rice bran, prunes, ginger, fenugreek seed and vegetable cellulose help restore normal intestinal mobility

• Digestive enzymes such as papaya or betaine HCl help break down food when the body is not secreting enough enzymes on its own

• Beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, along with fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which feed them, can help reestablish a balanced intestinal environment

• MSM and glycine reduce inflammation and help maintain the health of the digestive tract lining

• L-glutamine, glutamic acid and quercetin enhance the integrity of the intestinal lining

echinacea by Flickr user Focx Photography

Herbs like echinacea soothe and protect the intestines

• Herbs like echinacea, slippery elm and ginger soothe and protect the intestines

• Nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, manganese and phosphatidylcholine are important for normal tissue growth and repair

• Mastic gum, MSM, licorice and glycine are anti-inflammatory and may help to soothe and protect irritated digestive tracts

• Ginger helps reduce nausea and vomiting and aids normal movement of food through the stomach

• Goldenseal, vitamin A and echinacea help promote healthy immune function

• Citrus bioflavonoids increase mucus secretion in the intestines and help protect intestinal cells

For the Adrenals and Nervous System:

Ashwagandha plant

Aswagandha, an adaptogenic herb, can help support the stress response system

• Vitamins A, C and E help modulate the stress response

• B vitamins and choline are required for the normal functioning of the nervous system

• Vitamin C is rapidly depleted in stressful times and needs to be replenished in order for the body to continue to handle stress

• Bioflavonoids increase absorption and effectiveness of vitamin C

• Eleutherococcus is anti-inflammatory and helps curb excessive physiologic changes to stress

• Ashwagandha and maca help modulate many of the adverse changes which accompany stress, including elevated cortisol

• Alfalfa helps protect the nervous system

By supporting your body in times of stress, not only will your digestive tract be healthier, but it will provide your whole body with the nutrients you need to be more resilient to stress and live a healthier, more balanced and productive life.

Read part 1 -Digestion and the Nervous System

Read part 2 – When Stress Takes Over

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Stress and Digestion Part 2-When Stress Takes Over

Stress and Your Digestive System

boxer and punching bag by Flickr user Boston Public Library

Stress sends your body into "fight or flight" mode

Any stress you experience, be it physical or emotional, activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers production of adrenal hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, that prepare your body to deal with the stress. This is often called the “fight or flight” response because, metabolically, the body becomes primed for one of two physical reactions: to run or to fight. Under the control of cortisol, adrenaline and the sympathetic nervous system, the body’s focus shifts from maintenance mode to emergency preparedness. This shift causes a number of effects on the digestive system:

• Secretions are reduced, including saliva, digestive enzymes and protective mucus

• Blood is shunted from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles, reducing nutrient exchange

• Nutrient absorption is diminished

• Muscular contractions in the intestines become irregular and can create cramping, constipation or diarrhea

• Sphincters close, inhibiting normal movement of food through the tract

• Peristalsis slows, allowing toxins to remain longer in the colon and harmful bacteria to multiply and crowd out the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gut

• Over time the lining of the stomach and intestines can become thin and damaged, creating an environment that allows more toxins to be absorbed into the body

• Immunity in the digestive tract is impaired with these changes

When 21st Century Stress Takes Over

Throughout human evolution, adrenal hormones and the sympathetic nervous system have suppressed digestive function during the stress response. Historically, the digestive system handled these fluctuations with relative ease. Now, though, stress-related digestive disorders like nervous stomach, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel and ulcers have become all too common. The stress response is the same as it has always been, but 21st century stress is dramatically different.

face as shattered glass by Flickr user AmateurArtGuy

Does stress leave you feeling like this?

Your stress response is designed to prepare you to physically deal with stress (running from a lion, for example), and the physical exertion helps dissipate stress hormones, quickly moving your body back into balance. However, modern stressors rarely require a physical response, and they tend to last longer and be more pervasive. For example, difficult relationships, unemployment, unsatisfying work, debts and mortgages affect your daily life and may last for months or years. Because you cannot fight with a loan or outrun a job, your stress hormones are not easily dissipated, and because the stressors do not go away, your brain keeps signaling your adrenals to make cortisol. As a result, digestion continues to be curtailed, with unhealthy consequences. To make matters worse, it is easy to disregard healthy habits when stressed. You may find yourself downing caffeine to keep going or drinking alcohol to calm down, both of which can damage your digestive tract lining even more. Sugary comfort foods contain very few nutrients, and sugar actually robs your body of B vitamins and other nutrients, pushing your nutritional status even lower. Routinely working through lunch or eating on the run does not give your parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response) a chance to even become activated!

If your adrenals fatigue from prolonged stress, digestion can suffer at the same time that food cravings increase because of low blood sugar, and digestive tract inflammation flares from the combined effects of slower digestion and decreased anti-inflammatory activity by cortisol.

Continue to part 3 – Rescuing Your Digestive System

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Stress and Digestion Part 1-Digestion and the Nervous System

Healthy Digestive Function

A healthy digestive system has a number of functions:

1. To break down food into small nutritional components that provide the vitamins, minerals, proteins, water and energy needed to maintain health.

2. To collect toxins, dead cells and other debris, and eliminate them from the body.

3. To act as a site for front-line immune defense.

During digestion, digestive enzymes, acids and other chemicals mix with food in the mouth, stomach and intestines to break down the food and extract nutrients. The intestinal wall acts as a filter, keeping toxins and debris inside and moving toward elimination while allowing the smaller nutrients to pass freely through the wall to enter the bloodstream. Once inside the blood, the nutrients are carried to all the tissues of the body that need them.

a colorized diagram of the digestive systemBecause digestive chemicals are very caustic and the specialized function of the digestive wall is so important, the linings of this wall are continually replenished to maintain its integrity. In fact, this is one of the areas of fastest cell turnover in the body. The degree of integrity of this wall has an impact on overall health, as well as the health of the digestive system because it affects the availability of energy and nutrients to cells throughout the body. Just as important are the quantity of digestive chemicals secreted, the length of time it takes the contents of digestion to move through the tract, the balance of intestinal bacteria, and the vigor of intestinal immune function. Stress modifies all of these aspects of your digestive system through the combined actions of your nervous system and adrenal hormones. To understand how this happens, it helps to first understand a little about how the nervous system affects the digestive system and what changes occur during the stress response.

Digestion and the Nervous System

nervous system by Flickr user cori kindredDigestive system function is regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The purpose of the ANS is to control a vast array of life-sustaining activities in the body without requiring conscious thought. Imagine how exhausting it would be to have to remember to instruct your stomach to empty or to remind your mouth to secrete saliva. The ANS is subdivided into three main parts: 1. the enteric, 2. the sympathetic and 3. the parasympathetic nervous systems.

1. The enteric branch manages every aspect of digestion. It is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” or “gut brain” because in addition to innervating the smooth muscles, glands and organs of the digestive system, it produces neurotransmitters (brain messenger chemicals) in the gut that can influence cognition and mood as well as digestive function. It works independently and also interacts with the rest of the ANS to regulate the digestive system and modulate digestive function during stress.

2. The sympathetic branch responds to stress and mobilizes the body for a physical reaction, generally inhibiting digestion so that more resources are available to the brain, heart and muscles.

3. The parasympathetic branch is responsible for maintenance, repair, restoration, relaxation and digestion. The phrase “rest and digest” is sometimes used to describe what it does. Under the control of the parasympathetic nervous system, the following processes of digestion are supported:

digestion path by Flickr user return the sunSaliva and digestive enzymes are secreted to break down food

• Food travels through the tract at the optimal pace for nutrients to be absorbed

• Muscular contractions in the intestines are smooth and regular

• Sphincters are opened to allow normal passage of food through the gut

• A special type of mucus is continually secreted over the inner walls of the stomach and intestines to protect them against caustic digestive chemicals

• The lining of the tract is maintained and repaired regularly

• Blood flows through the digestive organs to receive nutrients from food and to bring oxygen from the lungs

• Beneficial bacteria grow, supported by a balanced intestinal environment

• The immune cells in the digestive tract protect the body and the tissues of the digestive system against infection

Continue to part 2 – When Stress Takes Over

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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls-Part 3

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In the third of this three part series, I help you identify another pitfall – the overconsumption of caffeine, understand the effects this has on your health and your body’s ability to handle stress, and offer tools you can use to correct this habit.

Pitfall 3 – Relying on caffeine to push you through your day

The problem with doing this:

coffee beans

Image credit: Flickr user eyeore2710

It’s tempting to rely on caffeine for energy when life is hectic. Trying to balance work, family and personal needs, it’s easy to spread yourself too thin and push to increase the momentum when you should actually rest. If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, it can be even more difficult to refrain from using something that will give you an energy boost. However, a dependence on caffeine can worsen stress and adrenal fatigue rather than improve the situation.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. (Incidentally, it’s also a natural pesticide found on some plants that paralyzes or kills the critters that try to make the plant dinner.) Under the influence of caffeine, the adrenals – two glands that help orchestrate the body’s stress response system – secrete the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones initiate the fight or flight response, a widespread metabolic shift that prepares your body to deal with a physical stressor. This response increases breathing rate, heart rate, and drives blood and nutrients into your muscles. Although caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to produce more of these hormones, it does nothing to support or nourish the glands. Pushing fatigued adrenals with caffeine is like flooring the gas pedal on a car that is running on empty. If you don’t replenish the gas, the car will go faster for a short period of time, but will run out of gas more quickly. Driving fatigued adrenals with artificial stimulants pushes them further into exhaustion faster. Eventually, they may not be able to respond to even an average demand for hormones.

The solution: 

Don’t rely on caffeine to get you through the day. Even though it may be helpful in endurance sports or to stay alert, attempting to buoy fatigued adrenals with it is actually counter-productive. If you are currently hooked on caffeine, cut down on the amount you are consuming a little at a time and try substituting green tea or yerba matte for your coffee or energy drinks. These drinks contain smaller amounts of caffeine and increased amounts of antioxidants that support your body in times of stress. Licorice tea is another great choice. Licorice actually helps maintain cortisol in your body so you get more benefit from the cortisol your adrenals secrete.6 (Most licorice candy is full of sugar and is actually sweetened with anise rather than licorice, so it’s not an effective substitute.) If you choose to wean yourself off of caffeine entirely, be prepared for a few headaches and a little irritability, but both should resolve within a few days.

Now that you’re easing up on the accelerator, add gas to your system. Allow yourself to rest when you’re tired, drink water to stay hydrated, and eat a diet balanced with lean protein sources, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. To support the adrenals, include foods rich in vitamin C such as strawberries, peppers and citrus. B vitamins are absolutely essential to energy production. These are found in foods like dark green leafy vegetables, brewer’s yeast and lentils. Minerals like zinc and magnesium support the adrenals, and can found in nuts, seeds and leafy greens.

Non-dietary energy boosters can help, too. After you’ve been sitting still, even a brief period of exercise or stretching increases circulation and provides nutrients to your brain, revitalizing you. Add some upbeat music to your playlist and turn it on during your energy lull. Music has been shown to enhance both motivation and physical performance.1,2

If you still need some help after trying these dietary and lifestyle modifications, use supplements that support the adrenals rather than a chemical that drains them. Herbs such as ashwaganda, maca, and eleutherococcus (formerly known as Siberian ginseng) can be extremely helpful. These plants are adaptogens – herbs which help the adrenal glands adapt to stress and support their function. They have been shown to increase mental and physical endurance and reduce fatigue.3,4,5 Licorice, which slows the breakdown of cortisol,6 can also be taken as a supplement or tincture (alcohol extract). A complex of B vitamins in balanced ratios helps support energy production.

When dealing with stress and adrenal fatigue, diet can be your greatest ally or your most formidable foe. By keeping blood sugar stable and replacing caffeine, sugar and unhealthy fats with more nutrient dense choices, you can support your adrenal glands during times of stress. If you already have adrenal fatigue, following these few simple steps can move you miles along the road to recovery.

Read Part 1 on Fat and Sugar Cravings

Read Part 2 on Caffeine Dependance

References

  1. Karageorghis c, Mouzourides DA, Priest DL, Sasso TA, Morrish DJ, Walley CJ. Psychophysical and ergogenic effects of synchronous music during treadmill walking. J Sport Exerc Psychol 2009; 31(1):18-36.
  2. Waterhouse J, Hudson P, Edwards B. Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2010;20(4):662-9 Epub 2009 Sep 28.
  3. Panossian A and Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Sep;4(3):198-219.
  4. Archana R, et al.  Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. J Ethnopharmacol 1999; 64:91-93.
  5. López-Fando A, Gómez-Serranillos MP, Iglesias I et al. Lepidium peruvianum chacon restores homeostasis impaired by restraint stress. Phytother Res. 2004 Jun;18(6):471-474.
  6. MacKenzie MA, Hoefnagels WH, Jansen RW, Benraad TJ, Kloppenborg PW. The influence of glycyrrhetinic acid on plasma cortisol and cortisone in healthy young volunteers. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1990 Jun;70(6):1637-43.

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.


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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls-Part 2

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In the second of this three part series, I help you identify another pitfall: the overconsumption of sugar and fat, understand the effects this has on your health and your body’s ability to handle stress, and offer tools you can use to correct this pitfall.

Pitfall 2 – You succumb to sugar or fat cravings

The problem with doing this:    

sugar overload

Image credit: Flickr user jeffsmallwood

When your body is stressed, your adrenals (two little glands that sit above the kidneys) secrete adrenaline and cortisol, hormones that help your body handle the stress. These hormones break down stored fuel and increase your heart rate, delivering blood and energy to your muscles to prepare you to either fight a stressor or run from it. They also increase metabolism, causing your body to burn through nutrients at an increased rate. When you are under stress, your hormones and body demand fuel, and it is tempting to grab something sugary for a quick energy boost or something fat-laden for more sustained energy. Unfortunately, although it may provide a temporary solution, the gain is short-lived and may actually do more harm in the long run.

Sugary treats such as cookies, candy, and sugar-filled drinks provide very few (if any) nutrients and only simple sugars. Simple sugars are those that are easily broken down and released quickly into the blood stream. Although this may seem like a good solution to your energy slump, it’s not. The problem is that insulin, a hormone that moves sugar into the cells where it can be used, is secreted by the pancreas in response to the rise in blood sugar. If too much sugar enters your bloodstream too rapidly, insulin may overshoot its target, moving the sugar quickly into your cells and out of your bloodstream, leaving you once again with low blood sugar and more sugar cravings.  To make matters worse, the metabolism of sugar for energy requires B vitamins and other nutrients. If these aren’t provided by the food along with the sugar, the sugar actually robs your body of these nutrients.

This doesn’t only happen with obviously sugary foods; white flour, white rice, and other refined grains are also simple sugars. In other words, any type of grain product (breads, cereal, bagels, crackers, pretzels, or pasta) that doesn’t start with the word “whole” on the ingredient list is metabolized exactly like sugar, raising blood sugar and insulin levels rapidly, and then setting you up for a lower drop in blood sugar after. Fruit juice also provides a high quantity of simple sugars without the benefits of fiber, found in the skin and the pulp, to slow the sugar’s release into the blood. With juice it is also easy to ingest more sugar than you realize. Typically you would probably eat one orange for a snack. If you drink a glass of orange juice, you are ingesting the sugar equivalent of approximately 6 oranges!

(For more about the specifics of adrenals and blood sugar regulation, see Pitfall # 1)

Certain fats, or lipids, are essential to life. French fries, ice cream, and croissants are not. Many processed foods are made with partially hydrogenated oils and trans-fatty acids. Hydrogenation is the process of forcing hydrogen atoms onto a lipid. This improves the fats’ shelf life, but gives them an altered structure that is the opposite of what the body naturally uses. Since lipids are required in the formation of the membranes of all cells and in the synthesis of cortisol, this altered structure causes detrimental effects throughout your body, including your stress management system. In addition, these partially hydrogenated fats, as well as saturated fats (found in high concentrations in red meat and whole fat dairy products), also contribute to inflammation and weight gain, triggering chemical messengers that exacerbate fatigue and foggy thinking.

The solution:

Choose complex carbohydrates over simple sugars. Complex carbs are broken down more slowly and their sugar is released into your bloodstream over a longer period of time. Good choices include beans, lentils, whole fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as whole oats, brown rice and quinoa. When choosing fats, select natural sources of healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados and fish. These foods are high in omega 3 (good) fats, as well as other nutrients. Use additional fats in moderation. Good choices for oils include fresh virgin olive oil, flax seed oil and expeller-pressed canola oil. In addition to complex carbohydrates and healthy fats, incorporate lean protein sources into each meal or snack to stabilize blood sugar and reduce cravings.

Continue to part 3 – Relying on Caffeine to Get Through the Day

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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Stress and Nutrition: Avoiding 3 Common Dietary Pitfalls – Part 1

When you’re under stress, do you fall prey to one of three common dietary pitfalls: skipping meals because you feel like you don’t have time to eat; succumbing to cravings for sugar or fat; or relying on caffeine to try and rev your system? If so, you’re not alone. It’s easy to give in to poor nutritional choices when you’re fatigued and under stress. Unfortunately, although they may feel like a quick fix, these behaviors can create more problems in the long run. In this three part series, I will help you identify the pitfalls, understand the effects they have on your body, and offer tools you can use to correct them.

Pitfall 1 – You skip meals or forget to eat 

The problem with doing this:

Hurry sign

Image credit: Flickr user rockmixer

Low blood sugar is a stress on the body. If you are already experiencing stress and you skip meals, you are actually compounding your stress. It’s the job of the adrenals (two little glands that sit above the kidneys) to support your body during times of stress, including times of low blood sugar. If you have strong adrenal function or your adrenals are only mildly fatigued, you might be able to get away with skipping meals every now and then. However, if your adrenals are fatigued from chronic or severe stress and you continue to make meal skipping a habit, you could be spending more of your energy bank account than you realize.

Cortisol is one of the principal hormones secreted by the adrenals. One of its primary functions is to maintain blood sugar (or glucose) levels. Glucose is the body’s ready source of energy.  When glucose levels drop (as they do several hours after eating), or when your cells require more energy (as in times of stress), the adrenal glands secrete cortisol and the fight or flight hormone, adrenaline. These hormones work to raise your glucose levels by promoting the creation of new glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (like protein) and break down of a storage form of glucose, called glycogen. However, this process is meant to be a temporary, short-term fix; not a substitute for refueling with food. Skipping meals depletes your reserves, and the production of adrenal hormones requires energy and nutrients.

Adrenal fatigue complicates the situation further. When your adrenals are fatigued, it is more difficult for them to produce adequate levels of hormones. Without enough cortisol and adrenaline, your blood sugar remains low, and your brain continues to stimulate the adrenals, trying to make them produce more. The situation is much like beating a tired horse, and it makes it far more difficult for the adrenals to recover.

The Solution:

Although skipping meals is one of the most common dietary pitfalls for people with stressful lives, a little planning may make it the easiest one to avoid. Breakfast is just that – breaking a fast. Eat before 10 am to give your body the fuel it needs and to replenish the energy stores you have depleted while sleeping.  Then eat moderately sized, healthy meals approximately every 3 hours to help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day. Eating a few bites of a healthy snack before bedtime will often help maintain blood sugar and cortisol levels throughout the night and prevent sleep disturbances and panic attacks in the middle of the night. Every meal and snack should include protein (animal or vegetable), complex carbohydrate (whole grains, fresh vegetables, and fruit) and a little healthy fat (preferably fresh vegetable, nut or fish oil). Since time is often a factor for people with stressful lives, it can be helpful to prepare things in advance and store them in individual portion sized containers. Also, having quick sources of high quality protein on hand such as protein powders, boiled eggs, single serving tuna, hummus with veggies, and packages of nuts can get you through during a real time crunch.

Many people with adrenal fatigue don’t feel hungry in the morning and even have difficulty eating at that time. This is typically due to one of two reasons: either they ate too much too late the night before, or lowered adrenal function is causing sluggish liver function. If this is true for you, make sure to keep your evening meal(s) small, and consider eating foods which support liver function such as beets, broccoli, and cabbage, and the spice, turmeric. Fiber and live beneficial bacteria, like those found in some yogurts, can support optimal gastrointestinal movement.

Continue to part 2 – Sugar and Fat Cravings

About the Author

Dr. Lise NaugleDr. Lise Naugle is an associate of Dr. James L. Wilson. She assists healthcare professionals with clinical assessment and treatment protocols related to adrenal dysfunction and stress, and questions regarding the use of Doctor Wilson’s Original Formulations supplements. With eleven years in private practice and a focus on stress, adrenals, hormonal balance and mind-body connection, she offers both clinical astuteness and a wealth of practical knowledge. Dr. Naugle also maintains updated information about the latest scientific research on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function, endocrine balance and nutritional support for stress and develops educational materials about stress and health for clinicians and their patients.

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